ON our tour of old Darlington garages in Memories 412, we mentioned that the general sales manager at John Neasham’s Ford garage in Parkgate was the wonderfully-named Baron Gabriel H Calcagni de Tande.

“Gabby was my uncle and the Darlington girl that he married was my mum’s sister, Blanche Oliver,” says Trevor Griffiths, in Darlington.

Gabby came from Algeria in north Africa, which was a French colony, and so during the Second World War, he came to Britain to fly Spitfires with the Free French Air Force, which was fighting to free France from German occupation. He was based in Lincolnshire but somehow met Blanche, who was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force stationed at Middleton St George.

They got married and Gabby intended to return to Algeria, but the heat was too much for Blanche. Then, in 1954, the Algerian War of Independence began. It was a bloody affair, up to one million dead and more than two million refugees.

Gabby’s twin brother was involved with the Organisation Armée Secrète, which carried out terrorist attacks in a bid to keep Algeria under French control.

Therefore, when the National Liberation Front won, and Algeria became independent in 1962, the brother became a wanted man, and it was too dangerous for Gabby to return home, even to see his mother.

So he settled in Darlington, and fell in with John Neasham, a remarkable entrepreneur. Neasham started as an apprentice mechanic at Dove’s in Bondgate. He began his own garage in 1926 near St Hilda’s Church in Parkgate and expanded to become a Ford dealer with showrooms in Northallerton and Richmond.

He had a finger in every pie that was baking in town: he was a councillor, a magistrate, a freemason, an alderman, a mayor; he was chairman of the aero club at Croft Circuit; he was a leading member of the Rotary Club, cricket club, motor club, St John Ambulance Brigade, and the chrysanthemum society.

He was probably best known as a director of Darlington Football Club from 1936 to 1964, and as chairman from 1951. It is true that for all his reign, the Quakers flirted outrageously with the bottom of Division Three. It is also true that it was during his reign that they enjoyed possibly their greatest moment of the 20th Century, drubbing Chelsea 4-1 in an FA Cup replay, in front of 15,150 at Feethams.

Trevor reveals that his uncle Gabby helped Mr Neasham with another sideline: selling post-war surplus aircraft to northern African countries. Once the sale had been made, Gabby personally delivered the planes – with Blanche acting as his navigator.

“He was delivering one to Morocco with Blanche when they ran out of fuel and had to land on a beach in Spain, where they scrounged some petrol,” says Trevor.

After being Mr Neasham’s general manager, Gabby set up his own business of St Paul’s Motors in North Road in partnership with Percy Billau. St Paul’s still goes and Billau Motorcycles is in Chesnut Street.

Gabby was involved in setting up the Free French section of the Yorkshire Air Museum at the former RAF Elvington, near York, where French heavy bomber squadrons had been based during the war, and his uniform is still on display there.

He and Blanche had two children, Annette and John. Gabby died in 1989, but Blanche only passed away last year, at the age of 95.